Rich and Poor

I read this great post by Julie Bush and was moved to say something, alot of things, but I’ll try to keep my thoughts from going off on too many tangents. A bit of background: Julie writes with raw emotion. Sometimes I steel myself before reading her stuff, knowing I’m going to feel uncomfortable, but that’s what I love about her too. This time she made me feel shame, hope, and even a bit transcendent all at once. She was talking about growing up in poverty, not ghettos of South Africa poverty, but the American version, where everyone around you seems so much better off with their shiny new cars and perfect teeth, while you’re too embarrassed to even let friends see your house. I know exactly how that feels. I grew up on food stamps, wearing dollar clothes from the Salvation Army, and my house was so trashed you could barely tell where the junkyard next door ended and our place began. Even if my beer-swigging, always-red-with-rage, stepfather had allowed us to bring friends home, I wouldn’t have dared.

But Julie has great friends who won’t let her dwell, and they told her to write about being rich. Rich and poor are states of mind. She told a story of being a struggling writer, whingeing online about being unable to afford one thing or another, and how a screenwriter in LA looked up her address and sent her $300. Six months later, she moved to Hollywood, paid him back, and has worked as a screenwriter ever since. That guy gave her the money, not because he expected to be paid back, but to show that he valued art and artists…Okay, this is when I started crying. And where I felt ashamed.

My junkyard environment was not conducive to the arts, and I haven’t even mentioned to my mother that I write novels on the side. I was told I spent too much time with my head in the clouds, a dreamer. She never expected any of us kids to do anything with our lives. I think she hoped for it, making her life seem less grim in comparison. She’s not the reason I went to college, got a PhD, and moved to Australia–that was all for me–but it doesn’t hurt that ‘I showed her’. And what I’m ashamed of is not so much fearing to talk about my writing dreams with family or colleagues, who’ll think I’ve got my head in the clouds, but of how I talk about my husband’s art.

I have always, always encouraged him to follow his dreams, to paint, to enjoy life because it’s over too quickly, and I haven’t minded being the chief bread winner since I graduated (I’m a patron of the arts after all!), but I never talk about it like that to others. Friends ask how my husband’s degree is going, and I say great, and they ask what his plans are, and I say he hopes to teach…It’s what they want to hear, but I feel dirty every time, knowing I’m lying. He’s severely dyslexic, how is he going to get an education degree to go with his arts degree? He’s only sold a couple of paintings to acquaintances, so we can’t rely on the art either. I see other people buying houses because they have two incomes, but I can’t. Deep down I’m fine with it. I know if things ever got really tough, my husband would get whatever job he could and work hard to help out. He supported me through ten years of college doing hard labor 12 hours a day, so I know he’s no slacker. But I made a choice to support a dream, whether something comes of it or not, and I’m not about to tell him to give it up so I can have the same luxuries as my colleagues.

Thanks to Julie, I realized I’m letting others make me feel poor when really I am so very very rich:

  • I have the best husband in the world, and we’re still madly in love after 21 years
  • I’m going to have a baby!
  • I have a wonderful brother, several wonderful friends, and two beautiful cats
  • I have a great job that allows me to support both me and my husband’s dreams
  • I’m healthy, well fed (unlike my childhood), with a spotless house, and I never want anything but chocolates for Christmas because I already have everything I truly need
  • I’m a writer! To be published someday (fingers crossed)
  • and all those terrible, strange, beautiful experiences of childhood are fodder for the imagination–it’s all good in the end

I’m rich in every way that matters, and from now on I won’t be ashamed to support an artist. More people need to. Most importantly, I’m happy, and it’s not ‘stuff’ that makes me feel that way. How about you? What makes you rich?

Thanks for reading! More posts on books, film, and writing can be found on my website at Lorel Clayton Author.

4 thoughts on “Rich and Poor

  1. Lorel,
    I am so very flattered by your kind words.
    And what a gifted writer you are!
    I feel certain you’re going to be a successful novelist — one thought: stop saying “aspiring”. If you write regularly, with serious ambitions, you’re a writer.
    Second, you have to start reading this blog:
    http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/
    I think you’ll start to realize that there might be more money to be made in self-publishing than traditional publishing now.
    It sounds to me like you have a wonderful life — full of all the things I’m hoping and dreaming for. I’m envious.
    I wish you all the best and thank you —
    X Julie B

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